Should I Sell My Manuscript?

the self publishing author

Should I sell my manuscript? is one of the most persistent questions I have encountered from authors and would be authors. And I will answer it straight away to the best of my knowledge. For the sake of those who are not familiar with the options in the book publishing industry in Kenya, let me explain the basics.

Royalty based option

This is the traditional publishing option. The author writes. The publisher produces the finished product that we find on the book shelves. The publisher pays the author an agreed percentage from the proceeds after sales within a given time frame.

In many countries, including Kenya, the standard royalty rate is 10 percent of the net profit from a sale. That means if your book is released for KES 120 at the publisher’s warehouse, you receive 10 percent of the net profit from that amount. The net profits will depend on many factors, but majorly on the investment the publisher puts into producing the finished product.

Such investment takes into account overheads in the editing and design processes (I will discuss this in another post), the printing costs, the warehousing costs, and most importantly the marketing costs, among other miscellaneous costs. All these costs of book publishing are born by the publisher. Your work as a writer is to write and submit, then write other books as the publisher works on the already submitted manuscript, and after some time according to your contract, the publisher will call you for your cheque.

Self-publishing option

This option is as clear as moonlight after the end of the Ramadhan period.  You write the book of your choice, you pay for the editing and design processes, you pay for the printing costs, you pay for the warehousing costs – well, you can simply store the books in your house – and most importantly, you take charge of the marketing. All these costs are humongous, especially in Kenya where we import almost everything, including paper.

The good thing about self-publishing is that you will get all the profits for yourself. You dictate the cost of your book. For the royalty-based option, the publisher dictates the cost of the book based on the competing market prices of similar products. This is done way before you even start working on production.

The challenge with self-publishing is that the humongous production costs can give you a little blood pressure. Many times, I met people who tell me that their book will sell because they have met some people who have already indicated interest. Well, that is not how the market works. After your 50 or 60 friends buy a copy, what do you do with the rest in case you have printed 500 copies? Unless you are a celebrity, or a famous person, or have at least a thousand friends who read, self-publishing is not your best option.

Selling a manuscript option

Book publishing in Kenya is a tricky business, but when approached intelligently, it can mint you a few millions. But because you have heard of that tirade that the royalty is not what I expected, you are now wondering whether selling your manuscript is the best option.

In my opinion, it is not. The simple reason is, there is no Kenyan publisher who will buy your manuscript for a few hundred thousand shillings. Unless, of course, you are a brand. Second, you do not know how the book will perform in the market. For instance, if a publisher convinced you to sell at KES 150,000, and goes on to sell at profits similar to that amount for the next seven years, who wins? But in case you are in a cash dilemma, then you can consider it.

What next?

It is up to you. Would you like to see your name flying off the shelves ten years after you received your pay cheque? Or would you like to get some royalty every year for the ten years your book is around? What I always advise authors in Kenya, treat your book the way you treat your shares: A passive way of earning income. The more you write, the bigger your pay cheque.

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Hillary Namunyu  is an experienced publishing consultant, editor, author, and cultural enthusiast based in Nairobi. To reach him, write to hillary @ wasomi . org

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